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Senate Clears $640.7 Billion Defense Measure for Obama

The House-Senate conference agreement would authorize $633.3 billion in discretionary spending, $1.7 billion more than the Pentagon requested. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate approved legislation that authorizes Defense Department programs and spending for the current fiscal year, clearing the measure for action by President Barack Obama.

The legislation calls for $640.7 billion for the Pentagon and related defense programs at agencies such as the Energy Department for the year that began Oct. 1. The Senate voted 81-14 today for the compromise bill crafted by a House-Senate conference committee. The House approved it yesterday.

The measure includes more money than the Obama administration sought for weapons built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. and General Dynamics Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Funds authorized in the bill would still have to be appropriated through separate legislation.

Even with talks stalled between the White House and Congress over avoiding automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin next year, lawmakers called the defense bill must-pass legislation. It’s based on the assumption that automatic defense cuts known as sequestration won’t take effect. Enacting the measure would mark more than 50 consecutive years of legislation authorizing military spending and programs.

“The conference report contains many important provisions that will improve the quality of life for our men and women in uniform,” Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on the Senate floor. “It will make the investments we need to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.”

Veto Recommendation

White House aides had said they would recommend that Obama veto earlier House and Senate-passed versions of the bill unless a number of provisions were changed. Asked yesterday if the president would veto the final measure, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “What we put out is still our position, and I don’t have any updates on it for you.”

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said today he opposed the bill because it doesn’t contain language stating that Americans accused of crimes in the U.S. will be guaranteed the right to a trial by jury.

The conference agreement would authorize $633.3 billion in discretionary spending, $1.7 billion more than the Pentagon requested. It includes $527.5 billion for base Pentagon activities, $17.4 billion for energy and defense national security programs and $88.5 billion for war operations abroad.

Authorized increases would be offset mainly by requiring the Defense Department to cut civilian workers and service contractors by 5 percent over five years, which could save $5 billion, according to Arizona Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Submarine Funding

The measure would give the Pentagon multiyear authority to buy Virginia-class attack submarines and DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers built by Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls and Falls Church, Virginia-based General Dynamics.

The Navy would be permitted to receive $1.65 billion for two Virginia-class attack submarines, $777.8 million more than requested.

The bill would authorize more funding than the Obama administration sought for the M1 Abrams tank upgrade program, carried out by General Dynamics at an Army tank plant in Lima, Ohio. While the Pentagon wants to suspend work at the plant, the additional funding is intended to keep it open.

The Air Force would be barred from retiring the RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, at least until the end of 2014. The Pentagon wanted to cancel the system, built by Northrop Grumman Corp., saying it had become too expensive.

Iran Sanctions

The bill would impose new and expanded sanctions on Iran’s energy, shipping and financial services sectors, as well as on anyone involved in supplying precious metals to that country. The final version would give Obama 180 days to implement the sanctions and authority to waive them after that. The administration had said that sanctions already in place should be given more time.

The measure also would allow military health insurance to pay for abortions of women in uniform who are victims of rape or incest. Currently, funding can be used solely for an abortion to save a woman’s life.

Lawmakers agreed to keep, for another year, a ban on transferring detainees from the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S. Conference negotiators didn’t include language that some lawmakers said would create a permanent ban on detainee transfers.

The Pentagon faces a reduction in spending of about $500 billion over a decade, starting Jan. 2, unless Obama and Congress agree on a deal to avert the combination of tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

The defense authorization bill is H.R. 4310.

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